Review by Tess Tabak
Brett is a hopeless romantic who finds herself middle-aged, washed out with fading looks and her fiery independence dulled by brain damage. Enter Cash, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. When the two enter into an unlikely, impulsive marriage, the meat of Jennifer Spiegel’s novel, And So We Die, Having First Slept, begins.
You don’t necessarily think of an abusive marriage as grounds for a great romance novel, but Spiegel has such a remarkable talent for capturing characters that it never feels forced. Cash and Brett feel like real people trapped in a dark place, working through their demons together. Where Cash is addictive, sulky and at times violent, Brett has a fierce need to be loved by someone, and a belief both that her value as a woman is fading and that it’s her wifely duty to stand by her man. Though religion is a big part of the narrative, Spiegel doesn’t portray them as Christian monoliths. She explains both characters’ complicated and ever-changing relationship to their faith. Continue reading
My sister was the only person I knew who took photos at funerals. The snap and whir of her SLR was hard to ignore as it echoed up the aisle from the back of the church. There was never a flash, only the windows offered light to the mourners, but that sound – I’ll never forget it.
She started with strangers, the white-haired shadows we saw shuffling to the church across the road from our house on Sundays. When a hearse crawled along the street and into the carpark, the driver’s face a sombre mask behind the window, she would throw on the black graduation gown that slid easily over anything she was wearing, and grab the camera. An hour later she would return, sighing with relief, like a burden had been lifted. Continue reading
One time Lee actually screamed on an airplane. It had been one of those horrible situations with a seemingly endless delay on the runway and he had fallen asleep before the plane took off. He awoke to the unsettling bumps and skips of the plane lifting off in bad weather, shaking and dipping erratically. It had not been a conscious decision, the scream. He simply woke and screamed simultaneously, all at once, before he even knew what he was doing. He was 32 at the time. He had a middle seat. To his left on the aisle was an old lady who smiled sadly at him. Next to him on the window seat was his girlfriend of the past two years, Katherine. Continue reading
We hit cruising altitude. The ground, out the window, is an expanse of blank salt flats, or Midwestern snow. Two dimensions of white, anyway, shot through with meandering streams or ruts or roads. They look like the veins on the back of an ill woman’s hand. My mother’s hands, say. Or they look like the smoke from Adrienne’s cigarette when we sat on the dock just two summers ago, the way it curled snakily in the windless air. Smoking, Adrienne unfolded her history for me like a map. In the twilight, her hands were luminous, and seemed to leave trails in the darkening air as they moved. Trick of light or memory? Continue reading
Excerpt from The Family Jones
Siddhi and I conquered I-95 from Miami to New York with thumb wrestling, hangman, and sleep. “Gonna be great for us, munchies…” Jackson muttered, waking us both up just in time for a look at the City skyline. I wondered if we would ever see home again, or if we even had enough money to live in the real world, and I whispered my worries to Siddhartha, but then he started to look down and wring his hands like he always did when he got scared, so I cut it out.
“The Catskills,” Jackson said, pointing his finger at the purplish shadows rising out of a never-ending bed of green forest. A mom would have packed snacks. The three whole years of whatever I’d experienced with my own mother had long been squashed into the forgotten corners of my brain by the next nine years of newer, shittier memories, like the past sixteen hours of Jackson driving ninety miles per hour, the constant beeeeep of his Fuzzbuster insisting he slow down, and all the while with him mumbling how this guru was going to help him straighten out, get right.
Jackson turned onto a gravelly road that led to a huge, grassy field in the forest, then up a hill past a pair of old brown barns where a bunch of goats stood around nervously, like they were waiting to take a math test. Another quarter mile from the barns, and Jackson pulled up to a circle of little cottages—yellow clapboard with lacy white porch rails—and parked at the sign that said, “MAIN OFFICE.”
On the lawn outside, a circle of naked women in socks upended themselves into headstands. They looked like a rack of lamb. Continue reading
It’s March and too cold for Delia, who pulls her black wool scarf tighter around her neck and tugs her coat—missing three buttons—tighter around her body. Under the coat, her winter blue-plaid school uniform offers no protection against the chill. She holds a stack of textbooks against her body for added warmth and wishes she hadn’t lost her gloves. She longs for warmer temperatures, for spring’s kiss on the now-naked winter trees lining the streets. Her father, who has sayings for everything, once told her March comes like a lion, but leaves like a lamb. Today, the lion roars her to numbness. She reminds herself to remember to sew the buttons back on her coat and to possibly snag her mother’s gloves.
On Riverside Avenue she forces herself step by step toward the Inner Harbor, away from Mary Star of the Sea High School, knowing she must endure the cold for another twenty minutes before she reaches her neighborhood. First a piano lesson, then home to change, and then her cashier job at the grocery store where her mother knows the owner and finagled the under-the-table job. The stack of textbooks provides some protection against the cold air, but her arms ache from the weight. She sets the stack down on a nearby stoop and shivers in her thin coat until she picks them up again. The books hold her coat shut. A few days ago, she asked her mother for a warmer coat, but winter is nearly over, her mother said, adding that she’d get a new one next year. She also asked her mother to sew the missing buttons, which sat in a small, clear cup in her room, back onto her coat.
“You could do it yourself,” Ivy said. Continue reading
I gazed with both awe and skepticism at Kevin as he sipped his coffee, bit into his muffin and surfed the web on his phone. We had been together for four months, yet there were still times when he felt to me like a figment or dream. It seemed as if he might vanish at any moment, leaving me alone in my Brooklyn apartment.
In the decade before I met Kevin, there wasn’t one Sunday that I didn’t take breakfast alone. I’d had a few one-night-stands, but always crept away or convinced the guy to leave as quickly as possible. It was no wonder I occasionally doubted if Kevin was real. For my entire adult life and most of my childhood, solitude had been my only companion.
I met Kevin at a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar. I didn’t go to bars often, but once in a while did crave human company. Kevin walked in, slender, bespectacled, gawkily handsome, in khakis and a buttoned-down shirt buttoned to the top. Appearing as wholesome as a fifties sitcom character, he seemed as out of place there as I felt. That was surely what possessed me to approach him, ask him the name of his cerulean blue drink. We ended up having three rounds of “bluebirds.” At the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and went to our respective homes, a rarity in the gay world. If I were to find love, it couldn’t be with anyone remotely normal.
Kevin was strange because he was so “normal,” raised by two devoutly religious, yet wholly accepting parents in a small Minnesota town. He had moved to New York from Minneapolis a month earlier, transferred by his consulting firm. He’d recently ended a long-term monogamous relationship. There was no Grindr on his phone. The only “Molly” he knew of was his sister-in-law. Continue reading
Crawfish pie, succulent as any dish at Galatoire’s, beckoned from the counter alongside a platter of baguettes and, glistening under the skylights, a heap of romaine tossed with strawberries. Were cilantro and pine nuts wedged in there too? Either way, the silver platter caught Beth’s crab-like hand scuttling toward the baguettes, and her eyes as well, looking to elude her mother’s gaze. “I’m twenty-one years old, Mom, and I don’t care if I’m not emaciated like you,” she might have said.
But she didn’t. In this polite envelope of a crowd, gathered together at Uncle Adrian’s beach house, a rejoinder to her mother’s silences would be unthinkable. Every June they visited. As usual, her family had traveled from Chattanooga, though this time she’d driven alone after work, first with the radio blaring, then As You Like It on CD. While for her the trip to the Gulf Coast took seven hours, her cousins, who lived in New Orleans, except during and after Katrina, could make it in four.
“Okay, everybody!” bellowed a pious great-aunt. Continue reading
He told her he knew how to do it. He told her he’d camped in the northern forest, year after year, always in mid-autumn, just him and his dog, a foxhound mix with the lungs of an Arabian stallion, who tore up and down the mountain trails, covering three or four times the distance he did, the ecstasy never once dimming in its soft brown eyes. Each time he brought along an extra sleeping bag for the dog even though the dog declined to get inside it when the nights dipped near freezing and would maybe sleep on top of it but generally preferred to curl up against him, right in the crook of his head and shoulder so that, as he tried to sleep, he heard and felt the deep breaths rumbling contentedly through the dog’s body.
He liked this part of the forest, he told her, because the shelters along the trails eliminated the need to carry a tent. The shelters were simple plank platforms with shake-shingle roofs, each with four bunk bed frames, all of it sitting on sturdy foundations built with boulders and mortar. The weathered lumber was incised and initialed, some inscriptions with dates going back forty years and some in languages from other continents.
After the dog died, he lost the will to return alone, but the memories stayed strong, the scarlet and golden mountains and forest whispers and the dog splashing through and slurping up the clear water of every brook they came across, a doggie paradise loop running endlessly in his head.
“It was paradise for you too,” she said. Continue reading